Die Welt, January 25, 2014
He was responsible for the death of millions, organizer of the Holocaust, head of SS and Gestapo. His letters, photos and notes had been considered lost. Now they are published here for the first time.
There was noticeable tension on that Thursday in June. Rumors went around. It had been speculated that there could be "a profound change in the relationship with the Soviet Union". That is what the messages by the leading circles of the Nazi party to the Third Reich's Ministry of Propaganda said. All leave for the members of the Wehrmacht had been cancelled. Something was going to happen on this weekend. Everyone who knew anything about how the Nazis' apparatus of power worked knew that. And it was known that Adolf Hitler had made it his habit to launch his political and military offensives on a Sunday.
Heinrich Himmler, "Reichsführer SS", Chief of the German Police and the Reich's Commissioner for the "Festigung des deutschen Volkstums" (Consolidation oft he German Race) cancelled the ban on leave for himself. For 36 hours he flew from his Berlin office to his private home at Lake Tegernsee, where his wife Marga and his daughter Gudrun were waiting for him. The small family made a trip to the idyllic Valepp valley and had their pictures taken happily frolicking in nature. It was 19 June 1941.
"There is still one can of caviar in the fridge."
Himmler didn't say a word about this to his wife Marga. For all we know the upcoming events were not mentioned during the hastily organized family holiday. Did Himmler give any hints? "Now we are at war again. I knew it. I didn't sleep well at all", Marga Himmler wrote to her husband shortly after hearing the news about the beginning of the attack on the Soviet Union in the morning of 22 June 1941. But as a caring wife she also had some good advice for her husband: "There is still one can of caviar in the fridge. Take it."
His daughter Gudrun sent a letter to her father on that historic Sunday. "It's terrible that we are going to war with Russia. They were our allies after all." And the not even twelve-year-old girl added another concern in her letter: "Russia is sooo big. The struggle will be very difficult if we want to conquer all of Russia."
Gudrun's father had to learn the hard way how true that prediction turned out to be. Two days after the attack he made his way to Hitler's East Prussian headquarters "Wolfsschanze" in his personal train "Heinrich". Although he tried to call his home in Gmund almost every day he still forgot a very important date. "I felt so sorry that I forgot our wedding anniversary for the first time," Heinrich wrote to Marga on 7 July 1941, four days late. "There was quite a lot going on these days" adding that "the fighting is very hard, especially for the SS".
Very Personal Documents of a War Criminal
The letter is one of about 700 sent by Heinrich Himmler to his wife. They are the very personal documents of a war criminal that now have become available to the "Welt am Sonntag", almost 69 years after the end of the war and the suicide of the head of the SS. They are published here for the very first time. The letters, along with other private documents – many previously unknown photographs, diaries and the estate of Himmler's foster son Gerhard von der Ahé – were considered lost for decades and have been kept in a private home in Israel for some time. They are currently stored in a vault in Tel Aviv. The director Vanessa Lapa, who based her documentary about Himmler on that material, owns them now. Her documentary "The Decent" will premier on 9 February at the 2014 Berlinale film festival. "Die Welt" financially supported the production of the documentary.
Especially Himmler's early letters to his wife seem to be mundane at first glance. But they reveal a lot about the mindset of a cold-blooded, self-righteous bureaucrat, who became the mastermind and chief organizer of the Holocaust.
When Nazi era documents that have been considered lost forever suddenly surface, caution is obviously required. The papers from the Tel Aviv vault were therefore thoroughly examined by experts. The President of the German Federal Archive (Bundesarchiv), Michael Hollmann, who heads the world's most important institution for written legacies of the Nazi era, as well as the now retired expert on Nazi archives Josef Henke, came to a clear conclusion: "There is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the documents in Tel Aviv."
The handwriting of the letters, often signed "Dein Heini" ("Your Heini") or "Euer Pappi" ("Your Daddy"), matches other known documents of Himmler perfectly. His letters complement exactly those of his wife that have been kept in the German Federal Archive for many years.
Important Questions about the Collection
However, the main factor for the examination and evaluation of such documents is their traceability over the years. Where do the papers come from? Can they be traced conclusively in the past few decades? How and when did the authors lose them and how did the documents fall into other hands? Where did they end up? In the case of Himmler's private papers, we can answer all these important questions.
Towards the end of the first week of may soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Army reached the small town Gmund at the north end of Lake Tegernsee, where the Himmler family had been living at the house "Lindenfycht" since 1934. It had been empty since Marga and Gudrun fled a week before. U.S. soldiers then ransacked the big house, as all kinds of memorabilia like dedicated pictures, objects with swastikas or SS runes and private papers were very popular among the Allied soldiers. It was probably the Americans who opened the private vault and took its content with them. It is possible that they got help from one of Himmler's employees, who was still living on the sprawling grounds.
As two soldiers left the house with their booty, they met an American intelligence officer who had heard of the discovery of Himmler's estate. By order of the Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, it was among his duties to obtain evidence for the planned criminal trials against the leadership of the Nazi regime. So he tried to persuade the two soldiers to hand over the material or at least to sell it to him.
He successfully convinced only one of the GIs and received six notebooks containing the Himmler's diaries from the years 1914 to 1924. The officer noted that these documents contained nothing useful for the forthcoming trial. He shared that information with German-American historian Werner Tom Angress in 1957. Angress then transcribed the diaries and analyzed them for a scientific paper. That was the beginning and the foundation of research on Heinrich Himmler - twelve years after his suicide.
Little is known about what happened to the second soldier's material after he took it with him. It included parts of Marga Himmler's private diary, her NSDAP membership book, an album with photos of their baby daughter Gudrun, a handwritten recipe book, household books, numerous private photos - and negatives of Heinrich's letters to his wife from the years 1927 to 1933 and 1939 to 1945.
The Documents Surface
The documents surfaced in Israel in the early 1980s. They had come into the possession of a Holocaust survivor who only vague hinted as to where and how he obtained them. According to one version he bought the collection at a flea market in Belgium, according to another Himmler's former secretary and confidant Karl Wolff sold them to him. A gap in the documents' history, that remains unsolved so far. In February 1984 German federal archivist Josef Henke was able to sift through the material in Tel Aviv for the first time. He confirmed the documents' authenticity.
The owner wanted to sell the material, but the public had just been startled by the scandal over the faked Hitler diaries. Finally, in 2007, the father of the documentary filmmaker Vanessa Lapa acquired the documents.
They complement the image of a man who in many ways remained a mystery for historians and the general public. Unlike many other leading figures of the Nazi Party, he was neither a failed existence like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels nor was he a bitter loser of World War I still seeking revenge like Hermann Göring. These Nazi leaders left almost no private documents.
Himmler came from a conservative-monarchist and well educated Bavarian middle-class family. His father Gebhard, was a school principal in Munich and had been the educator of a Wittelsbach prince who became the namesake and godfather of his son Heinrich. This son presumably enjoyed a sheltered childhood in an intact family and a good education. He attended humanist schools in Munich and Landshut, graduated from high school after the end of World War I and became a student of agricultural science at the Technical University of Munich in late 1919. He had the reputation of being an industrious student who was also involved in a reserve group of the Reichswehr.
A Catholic Turns into a Jew Hater
Himmler grew up a Catholic and lived in a social environment that tended to be anti-Semitic. By the early 1920s he had become a pathological Jew hater, as his diaries from the period before 1924 confirm. But his anti-Semitism also becomes clear from the now discovered letters to his future wife Margarethe Siegroth from 1927.
Himmler was 27 when he met and fell in love with Marga on the train from Munich to Berchtesgaden in September 1927. She was a nurs and seven years his senior. From Christmas 1927 on they were romantically involved.
Especially at the beginning of their relationship Himmler liked to refer to the time he served in the military. However, the young cadet who was 18 at the end of the First World War had never seen action in the frontlines. A fact he later tried to hide in his official resume.
In his letters to Marga he mentions one thing more frequently than the life of a soldier. He defines his identity as that of a "Landsknecht" (roughneck) an irregular fighter. He describes himself as "a Landsknecht who has become hard in a 10-year-struggle" (2 January 1928). He liked to call himself "wild" or "rough", often referred to himself as "beese", meaning "bad". Apparently, his fantasies of being a tough and ruthless fighter also played into his sex-life with Marga. The word "bad" is frequently mentioned in their love-letters. Phrases such as "(...) I am so lucky to have such a good bad man who loves his bad wife as much as she loves him" can often be found in the correspondence. They also often speak of an unspecified "revenge", presumably as punishment for teasing. "(…) our 'revenge' – that will be fun" Himmler wrote to Marga on 9 January 1928 from a train to Munich. "I'm for nothing but 'Revenge', all the time." On 30 April 1928 she reminds her "beloved Landsknecht": "... and remember 'revenge'. My black soul is thinking up the most impossible things."
The "Very Bad" Roughneck
However, they didn't always agree on the glorification of the existence as a Landsknecht. Heinrich Himmler wrote on Christmas 1927: "We roughnecks of the German freedom struggle are supposed to remain lonely and ostracized." Marga complained: "There is definitely a sentence with 'but…' missing at the end. Otherwise I would have to assume you feel sorry about it. You can always remain lonely, but ostracized should be impossible by now" (28 December 1927). Himmler responded immediately, and gave the explanation that was asked of him: "But I didn't say it that way and I know now, because I can imagine the horror that awaits us in the future, that I will sooner or later bring sorrow and suffering to my most beloved one here on earth", (30 December 1927). Like Heinrich, Marga had her own ideas about relationships. In January 1928 she described her lover as a "bad man with a hard and rugged heart" - a remark that triggered Himmler's immediate protest: "Believe me, your Landsknecht does not have a rugged and hard heart. You of all people know that best, 'small' woman" (3 January 1928).
From the beginning of their relationship the "dear sweet woman" and her "good savage Landsknecht" shared other basic beliefs. In early 1928 Heinrich was already the de facto head of the Propaganda Department for the entire Reich and among the most important men in the Nazi Party. However, the NSDAP was still an insignificant splinter party on the extreme right of the political spectrum. Marga shared the radical anti-Semitism of her new lover. Initially she seems to have felt that one shouldn't have to make too many words about it: "I think the facts speak volumes already, why these remarks?" (2 November 1927). In later letters she wrote of the "Jewish scum" that scared her (February 27, 1928) or simply called them "scum".
Her fiancé encouraged her: "Poor Lovey, you have to deal with the miserable Jews because of money" (16 April 1928). Before her wedding Marga sold her shares of a private clinic in Berlin to the Jewish co-owner Dr. Bernhard Hauschild and complained frequently about him. "This Hauschild!" she wrote to her husband on 21 Mai 1928. "A Jew will always be a Jew!" Himmler replied "but don't get worked up about the Jews, dear, dear woman, if I could only help you" (21 June 1928).
A decade later, after the pogroms of November 1938, the "Night of Broken Glass", that had been orchestrated by Himmler and had been executed by his SS, the "Reichsführer SS" could do whatever he wanted with the German Jews. But apparently that wasn't enough for Marga. She wrote in her diary: "This thing with the Jews, when will this scum leave us so that we can lead a happy life?" (14 November 1938).
Love and Hate in the Himmler Family
The young couple not only shared hatred of the Jews. Berlin, where Marga had run her small private sanatorium, also didn't do very well in their opinion. "I love Berlin today because it is where you live. But I would love the poorest tiniest village just as much if it would be your home", Himmler wrote to Marga on Boxing Day 1927. "The system of Berlin, which can not touch you, you good and pure woman, I do hate and I will always hate."
Just before a visit of her lover Marga reacted in a slightly mocking tone: "But if you are still scared of Berlin, then please write in time, I'll pick up the scared Landsknecht, and I will protect him well, and I will be nice to him" (2 February 1928). But a few days later, after they decided to marry and to live together in Bavaria, she was glad no to have to live "here in this dirt" any longer (13 February 1928). "Berlin is too contaminated. One only speaks of money," she complained in a letter dated 22 April 1928. Marga Himmler had an ambivalent view of the German capital until the end of the Third Reich, even when they lived there in a luxurious 14-room-villa. One contributing factor was probably the fact that she was alone a lot because her "Heini" was away on official business quite often.
Especially in the early letters Himmler expressed his exuberant love for his wife calling her "you good, beloved, high creature" (17 November 1929) or "My sweet, beloved, little wife" (12 February 1931). However, the phrases sound quite hackneyed. Real affection is hardly perceptible. In later letters the tone turned even more sober and impersonal.
The Mistress Hedwig Potthast
From the end of 1938 on Himmler kept a mistress. Hedwig Potthast, his private secretary of many years, gave birth to his children Helge and Nanette–Dorothea during the war. Marga was said to have been extremely bitter about this relationship, but Himmler justified it with the reproductive duties of Aryan men. Nevertheless, the two still kept up a lively correspondence. However, the letters are no longer addressed to "My dear sweetheart" but to "Dear Mummy".
Himmler continued to look after his wife and daughter and supplied them with rare goods. As a general rule everybody in Germany had to live on food stamps with constantly decreasing rations as of August 1939. But that was only of theoretical concern for the top leadership. Nevertheless, the "Reichsführer-SS" frequently sent chocolate, cheese and other delicacies to Marga and Gudrun. In May 1942, he brought them – much to his daughter's delight "lots of fruits, vegetables and 150 Tulips" from Holland. "Striped, jagged, two colors, one color – the kind you cannot find here." According to Marga's household account book 1941 to 1945, which is also part of the document collection from Tel Aviv, the opulence of the Himmler lifestyle family is apparent: Marga spent 500 to 1,300 Reichsmarks every month for herself and her daughter. At today's purchasing power that is the equivalent of 8,000 to 20,000 Euro. This does not include rent by the way because the house "Lindenfycht" in Gmund belonged to Himmler and the government paid for the official family residence in Berlin-Dahlem. A normal Berlin housewife, in comparison, usually had monthly household expenditures of 50 to 100 Reichsmarks during the Second World War.
Some wartime-letters even read like checked off order lists: "Here is a little parcel with Candy and candied fruit and brandy beans and a can of condensed milk. And a few dextrose tablets and marzipan, so you have something to nibble on in these hideous nights and you can sleep better", Himmler wrote on 25 June 1943. And he gave his wife, who to his annoyance had taken a job a piece of advice: "You should take the dextrose when you have difficulties with the Red Cross - it will give you strength."
There is not much to be found about Himmler's everyday job in the letters. There are only snippets of information about what he did in these years. He sent letters and also photos of his "trips", but he didn't describe what he was doing and what he experienced. There is no mention of the countless crimes the "Reichsführer SS" ordered or was involved in. Not a word about the persecution, expropriation and murder of approximately six million European Jews. And hardly a word about the ghettos and extermination camps he visited and had been manned by his SS and police force. "I'm off to Auschwitz. Kisses, Yours, Heini". That was all that Hitler's closest advisor on "ethnic policies", the organizer of the concentration camp system and the head of the Gestapo and the SS, chose to tell his wife in this matter. His high workload, however, he mentioned frequently.
Greetings from Auschwitz
Himmler took care of his private correspondence and then went on to plan the most horrendous crimes. Just one day before the details of the Holocaust were planned at the infamous Wannsee Conference (that for formal reasons was hosted by the second-in-command of the SS Empire, Reinhard Heydrich), Heinrich Himmler sent an amber box to his wife as a "belated Christmas present" (19 January 1942).
Even while he was preparing for the inspection of the extermination camps in occupied Poland, where the gassing of several hundred Jews was demonstrated for him, Himmler went on writing his banal lines: "In the next few days I'll be in Lublin, Zamosc, Auschwitz, Lviv and then in the new quarters. I'm curious if and how I will be able to phone, it will probably be around 2000 kilometers to Gmund. All the best, have a nice trip and enjoy your days with our little daughter. Many warm greetings and kisses! Your Daddy", he wrote to Marga on 15 July 1942.
Mass murderer and family man – Himmler was both. He had millions of people murdered and always felt "decent" doing it. His letters to his wife convey that quite clearly. All this casts doubt on the account of his older brother Gebhard, who rose to the rank of SS-Standartenführer in the Third Reich. He claimed that Himmler's "greatest suffering" had been to have to work "on the negative side of humanity".
Kathrin Himmler, the great-niece of the SS chief, and historian Michael Wildt evaluated the letters for their book "Himmler privat. Briefe eines Massenmörders" (The private Himmler. Letters of a mass murderer) They write: "These letters show the deformation of normality, violence masquerading as harmlessness, cold-bloodedness that goes along with ostensible care, and the unswerving moral certitude even while committing mass murder."
"Die Welt" started an eight-part series re-examining the life of Heinrich Himmler. We are publishing many of the recently surfaced private photos and excerpts of the most interesting letters. The Israeli director Vanessa Lapa, whose father owns the private archive containing the documents, has based her documentary "Der Anständige" ("The Decent") on the new material about Himmler's private life. "Die Welt" financially supported the production of the documentary. It will premier at the "Berlinale" on the ninth of February.
Translated by Thilo Maluch